University Students Paralyse Activities at Lagos Airport over Prolonged ASUU Strike
•Passengers experience difficulty getting to airport
•Flight crews suffer delays, trek to terminal
There was traffic gridlock at all the entrance to the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) Lagos yesterday, as Nigerian university students under the aegis of the National Association of Nigerian Students (NANS) staged protest against the lingering strike of the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU).
The two major entrance to the airport through the popular Ikeja under bridge and 7&8 along Ajao Estate from Oshodi were on lockdown as vehicles remained at one place for over one hour.
The students numbering about 1000 used their vehicles to block the round-about before the tollgate, which is the exit of the link road between the domestic terminal facilities of MMA2 and General Aviation Terminal (GAT) to the international and cargo terminals.
They also blocked the domestic terminal area to ensure that there was no movement on the link road between the terminals.
With the blockage of the round-about, vehicles could not link the domestic terminal from the Ajao Estate area and vehicles from the Ikeja under bridge could not go to the international and cargo terminals.
The gridlock was literally on standstill, forcing air travellers who had morning and afternoon international flights to leave vehicles that were conveying them to the airport and carry their luggage on their heads, running to the terminal to check in for their flights.
Some of the passengers, THISDAY learnt, trekked up to three kilometers, from the Ajao Estate end to the international terminal.
Passengers on domestic travel were even more affected, as morning and afternoon periods are the peak periods in local flight operation.
Some of the passengers that could not trek secured the services of few commercial motorcycles that illegally took the advantage of the bad situation to operate and extract outrageous charges of N3000 to N5000 from the air travellers.
The students who turned up for the protest were not many at the beginning, as there was heavy downpour in Lagos from early morning till mid-afternoon, but they turned up in their hundreds later.
The students who were singings different songs and carried placards, started singing loudly, “End ASUU strike,” when they heard sirens from police vehicles, as the vehicles approached their location, where they blocked the road.
At the international wing of the airport, anxiety started mounting towards 3:00 pm because there were indications that many passengers might miss their flight and check in normally takes from two to three hours, so they ought to be at the airport, as peak period is between 7:00 pm to 11:00 pm.
At 3:00 the students were still protesting and singing songs and would-be travellers and other airport users, including workers, left their vehicles to climb the bridge leading to international terminal to escape the gridlock that jammed at the tollgate below the bridge, which blocked the gate of the cargo terminal.
A team of security operatives led by the Deputy Commissioner of Police Airport Command, DCP Sunday Kayode and Nigerian Air Force (NAF), Commandant, Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, appealed to the students to maintain peace while carrying out their protest.
Also at the General Aviation Terminal, (GAT) of the airport, the, National Chairman of African Action Congress (AAC) and former President, NANS, University of Lagos, Omoyele Sowore made appearance at the airport.
Sowore, a presidential candidate, who dressed in a black suit without his usual yellow beret or emblem, later departed the domestic airport terminal in a red golf car.
A leader of the protesting students, Afeez Babateye assured the security officers that the protest would remain peaceful as long as they were not molested by security operatives.
Remarkably, security personnel, including the Nigerian police officers were stationed strategically around the area the students were protesting but without any effort to stop them.
The protest as at 3:20 pm was still peaceful and the security operatives were not interrupting the students’ activities.
There were 20 police vehicles parked strategically around the protesting students, the police officers stood at alert, monitoring every movement the students were making but never interrupted them.
When the rain stopped more students came in, a group was stationed at the domestic wing, another group at the tollgate and another group at the cargo terminal area, all numbering about 1000.
When THISDAY checked the domestic terminal, known as MMA2 flight service was going on, as airlines were checking in and boarding passengers.
However, the Public Relations Manager of one of the major airlines told THISDAY that passengers were finding it difficult to get to the airport and also that the airline flight crew also found it difficult to get to get to the airport. These he said caused delay and disruption of flight schedule.
He said both passengers and airline staff resorted to trekking to the airport.
“Passengers are finding it hard to get to the airport. The protest is affecting flight schedule for the day. It is also difficult for our crew to get to the airport. Some of our workers have to walk their way to the airport. So we have to make adjustment on the afternoon schedule to ensure that many passengers don’t miss their flight. I am sure that some passengers will miss their flight,” the airline official told THISDAY.
The acting General Manager, Corporate Communication, Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Mrs. Faithful Hope-Ivbaze, told THISDAY that security operatives made sure that the protesting students did not get to the terminal to ensure they did not disrupt flight operations, adding that they students created a leeway at the domestic terminal so that passengers could pass through so they would not miss their flight.
“At the moment, the students demonstrating are being barred from going to the terminal by security operatives to ensure they don’t disrupt flights. That is the current situation right now. The passengers have to leave their vehicles and trek to the terminal,” she said.